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The Girl On The Stairs Goes Up and Down

With so much free time to kill –er, enjoy – over the past holiday weekend, we hit the park a good twice a day, maybe more. Madeleine loves the park, and if you add up the time it takes to do the sunscreen “massage”, pack the stroller, walk to the park, play, cry about leaving, get home, and unpack, you’ve got a good hour you can tick off the timesheet.

Madeleine’s first love at the park was the swings, and it’s where we start our park adventure every time, creature of habit that she is. She then discovered the slide and quickly conquered that apparatus. Transitioning to Advanced Park Play, she’s moved on to the stairs.

Maddie discovered the stairs in general a couple months ago. I always saw mommies holding their toddler’s thumbs and walking them up and down the stairs, and naively assumed the moms were the instigators, trying to burn off a little pre-nap energy. And when Madeleine first started climbing stairs, she was content to go up and down once, clutching my hands firmly, and then move on.

Unfortunately, with independent walking comes a bigger drive for exploration, coupled with an inflated sense of competency. The mechanics of going up and down the stairs fascinate her, and it’s the highlight of any park trip now. She’ll spend endless (in toddler time) minutes going up and down the same five stairs on a piece of equipment.

And I can’t decide which is worse – when she needs my help, or when she doesn’t. In the beginning, holding her hands and helping her up or awkwardly going backwards down the stairs myself, suspended between steps, made the Stair Game not my favorite. But when she was tied to my help, I had some control over how long the whole thing went. Now, if I refuse to offer my hands and help her up, she looks at me with grim determination as if to say, “If you won’t help me I’ll just have to do it myself.”

She turns her back on me and, clutching the stair railings, laboriously plants one little foot on the edge of the stair above. She begins to painstakingly drag herself up, her dimpled little leg straining with the work and her arms stretched precariously wide. When I can’t stand it any longer, I rush in with a hand under her bottom and give an unobtrusive little heft. She turns around, smiles triumphantly – See! I told you so! – and starts on the next stair.

While the stairs can be mind-numbing, I don’t mind them too much: it’s better than having to chase her all over the park taking bits of water balloon out of her mouth. And the best moments are when she realizes she’s not going to be able to make it by herself and reaches out unself-consciously for my hand. She’s still focused on the ascending or descending; she’s not freaking out about how hard it is or how scary it’s becoming; and she simply assumes I’m there to help.

It’s a cool feeling, being taken for granted like that. Having someone say to herself, “Of course she’ll be there. She always is.”

And I always am.


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